The "tear of India”, This is how Sri Lanka is called and, if you look closely at it on the map, you will realize why. Compared to the first time I had been there, back in 2005, this time I saw much more resemblance to the "older sister", especially with the Kerala. Many landscapes are incredibly similar, the light, the beaches, the people. The biggest difference are the archaeological sites: practically absent in Kerala and very numerous (and very ancient) in Sri Lanka. When I came here in 2005 there was still civil war in the country, there was a military curfew, and we were, my friends and I, among the very few tourists who ventured around here. The north of the country was totally off limits because it was in the hands of the famous "Tamil Tigers" who claimed the independence of that area and the country was not much organized for tourism. To make matters worse, there was also the violent tsunami of 2004 which destroyed everything on the south-western coast of Sri Lanka as well. The country that I found this year (2019) is completely different, much more alive, more equipped and organized to welcome the tourists who have become so many. It all seemed more beautiful to me and I was really happy to see it again with different eyes. I sincerely hope that the recent attacks do not change things because this country does not deserve it (nobody deserves it!). The country had painfully emerged from a civil war that lasted decades and tourism was going very well, they worked hard on infrastructure and accommodation facilities, and they were finally ready to welcome millions of tourists. Let's hope for the best, for real !!
Visa for Sri Lanka
To enter Sri Lanka it is necessary to apply for a visa, but the procedure is very simple because it is done online from this site. It costs € 36 (to be paid by credit card) and takes a maximum of 24 hours to approve it. You will then receive an email with the approval to print and take with you. The visa is then valid for 30 days. If you want you can also do it on arrival at Colombo airport, but it will cost you more so I do not recommend it.
When to go to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, like India, has a tropical climate and is joined by the monsoons that you they cut down on the south and west coasts and on the central regions from May to August. The "safer" period to do the classic itinerary (more or less what I did, see below) is certainly what it is runs from December to March, which also corresponds with the high tourist season. They say that even April and September are dry almost everywhere. As always, take these indications a little with a grain of salt because, with climate change underway, there are no longer any certainties: I heard friends who were there in August and have not seen a drop of water!
Health Insurance is required
In Sri Lanka our health coverage is not valid. My advice is to always take out medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip (country, duration, etc.) and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online (!!!).
Sri Lanka: currency and time zone
In Sri Lanka the Sinhalese rupee (in March 2019 the exchange rate was 1 euro = 200 rupees) and you can withdraw from ATMs almost everywhere. ATMs are found in all tourist resorts and can be withdrawn with normal credit cards (VISA, Mastercard, etc.) and ATMs (Maestro).
Sri Lanka is 4h and 30 'ahead of Spain (yes, as in India, there is half an hour, just to complicate life).
How much does the trip cost
Sri Lanka is an economic country for us, except for the entrances to the UNESCO heritage archaeological sites (Anuradhapura, Sigirya, Polonnaruwa, etc.) which cost on average about 25-30 dollars per person (only for foreigners of course!). To eat you spend about 5 euros in a buffet restaurant (which is a lot!) Or even 10-15 euros if you eat fish and shellfish (like lobster). To sleep in a nice place you spend around 20 euros per person, in a 5-star hotel around 50-60 euros. Overall I'd say it's a low-budget trip.
Internet, cell phone and wifi
Il Wireless it is present in most hotels and restaurants but it doesn't work very well. If you want to always be connected and don't want to spend thousands of euros on roaming, you should buy one sim locale (I always do it and I highly recommend it!). Find several telephone company kiosks at Colombo Airport, before passport control. The cost of a sim is around 7-8 euros (to have 5-6 Gb of data).
2 weeks itinerary in Sri Lanka
- Negombo / Colombo
- Mihintale – Pidurgala Rock
- Sigirya – Polonnaruwa
- Dambulla – Matale – Kandy
- Ramboda Falls - Tea plantations
- Adam’s Peak – Nuwara Eliya
- Ella (in the train of Nuwara Eliya)
- Mirissa – Galle – Hikkaduwa
- Negombo / Colombo
Sea extension in the Maldives
Sri Lanka is located very close to the Maldives and it can be a great idea to take a few days extension to these dream atolls. Calculate that a return flight from Colombo to Male costs around 210-260 euros.
How to get around Sri Lanka
After seeing India, Sri Lanka almost seemed like a country where people drive well! Seriously, here too road safety is something else (it doesn't exist!); many roads, especially those that go inland (Ella, Kandy, etc.) are not in good condition and you will have to share them with animals of various sizes, tuk tuks, buses (whizzing at crazy speeds), people walking, and much Moreover. All this to say that I do not recommend self-drive in Sri Lanka, because you would go crazy! On the other hand, the bus network is quite widespread and there are also private companies that use new, full optional buses. The railway network can also be a good option, especially if you are not in a hurry and want to appreciate the landscapes more. On the Sri Lanka Railways website find the various routes with all the info.
In both of my travels I have actually used it a car with driver and I think it's the best option if you don't have much time and want to see a lot of things. You can find it directly there, in one of the many agencies in Colombo or Negombo, or book it before leaving using sites like this, which they tell me to be reliable.
Security in Sri Lanka
I thought about adding this paragraph following the attack that hit the capital of the country Colombo and Negombo at Easter 2019. From my point of view this does not change my opinion on security in the country because it could have happened in many other countries where , apparently, we feel safer. Having emerged from the civil war not so many years, in Sri Lanka the security measures (especially in the tourist areas) are quite high and evident and, frankly, it is not a country that I would consider dangerous. The people are among the most hospitable and kind that can be found and deciding not to go there seems completely unjustified. Unfortunately we live in a sick world and attacks can happen anywhere (as is shown to us daily by the news); not going there anymore means making the attackers win and condemning a country whose economy is based precisely on tourism.
What to bring
For a trip to Sri Lanka there are some absolutely indispensable things. To visit the archaeological sites and temples you must always have your legs and arms covered so always carry light trousers and a t-shirt (or pashmina) in your backpack to cover your shoulders. Normally then you will have to take off your shoes to enter and the stones are hot so don't forget a pair of nice thick socks if you don't want to burn the soles of your feet. Other things not to forget are the sun protection (even when the sky is overcast you get burned) and the spray for mosquitoes (especially for seaside resorts).
- Negombo: Serendib Village Guesthouse
- Anuradhapura: Hotel Heladiv
- Dambulla / Sigirya: Rangiri Dambulla Resort
- Kandy: Serendib Stone Hotel & Bungalow
- Nullathanniya (Adams' Peak): Hugging Clouds
- Nuwara Eliya: Galaxy Grand Hotel
- Ella: The Bamboo
- Hikkaduwa: Coral Rock by Bansei
What to see in Sri Lanka: my advice
There are many things to see in Sri Lanka, and there would be much more than what you will find in this article so I decided to write you just a few considerations / tips that may be useful for your visit. I will not tell you the history of these places because you will find it on any guide.
1. Colombo (or Negombo?)
I entered it only to write that I would avoid going there. I was stopped in Colombo for 3 days the first time I was in Sri Lanka (due to force majeure ... my backpack did not arrive) and I hated it enough. It is a super chaotic and busy city that has very little to offer. Being also far from the airport (it takes more than 1h with little traffic), my advice is to use as a starting point (and return, because it is closer to the airport), the town of Negombo which is located in north of the capital, on the sea. There is nothing to see here either and the beach is not beautiful, but there are nice little restaurants by the sea and if you choose a hotel with a swimming pool… you will find out how to pass the time!
The ruins of the ancient capital of Sri Lanka are really extensive and include temples that are still used by the faithful for ceremonies. Despite being an archaeological site, it is an absolutely lively and suggestive place (which often happens in Sri Lanka). It is large and very distracting so I do not recommend visiting it on foot, unless you want to walk in the heat, under the sun, for a lot of kilometers. If you don't have a car, at most you can rent bikes. In my opinion it is better to go there in the afternoon because the light is more beautiful and, above all, because you can find yourself in the middle of a ceremony in one of the many stupas. Admission costs $ 25 per person and the visit takes at least 2-3 hours.
Mihintale is the place where Buddhism developed in Sri Lanka and from its temples and stupas you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view. Calculate that they will make you take off your shoes at the beginning of the climb, in the first part it is better if you keep your socks on (because you will walk on earth), but I advise you to take them off when you climb the highest rocks because you slip a lot (those suffering from vertigo may have some problem).
4. Pidurgala Rock
This fortress is located exactly in front of that of Sigirya and is the most beautiful spot of the entire trip to see the sunset. Start climbing an hour before sunset and stop up to enjoy the view. Then try to go down before it gets dark because the path is not illuminated (alternatively, bring a front light).
Sigirya is one of the most famous places in Sri Lanka and is very touristic. To avoid the heat and queues, try to start the ascent by 8-8: 30 at the latest. Entry costs $ 30 each. It takes 1 hour and a half to climb slowly (it is a compulsory path). The heights are remarkable, those who suffer from vertigo will struggle a little: in the very last piece there are the Sinhalese who help you climb but then ask you for a tip as soon as you arrive. The place, however, is magnificent!
NOTE: : Between Sigirya and Polonnaruwa, if you have a car, stop for lunch in a restaurant called "Priyamali Gedara", a beautiful farm overlooking the rice fields where everything you eat (which will be delicious!) Is at zero kilometer.
Polonnaruwa, by extension, is similar to Anuradhapura, but it is easier to visit the site on your own with bikes as most of the temples and attractions are located along the same road and are well signposted. The most convenient thing to do is to rent the bikes at the entrance (even if you want a guide): they cost 1.000 rupees / person and then you can leave the bikes at the end of the tour because they will bring them back. The site closes at 18:00 and it takes at least 2-3h to visit it. The ticket price is $ 25.
The caves of Dambulla are of an embarrassing beauty !! In both trips, they are among the things I liked the most! Its rock caves are very ancient (dating back to the XNUMXst century BC) and the frescoes inside have colors and designs of absolute modernity. Unmissable !!!!
Kandy is the most beautiful city in Sri Lanka in my opinion, it is nestled in the mountains (it is no coincidence that it is called the Hill country) and is full of greenery. Here is also the most famous temple in the country, the Temple of the Tooth, which holds the most precious Buddhist relic, a tooth of the Buddha. Every evening at 18:30 pm there is the ceremony (on the upper floor of the temple) and they open the room that holds the tooth so that the pilgrims can bring their offerings. People line up already 30'-1h before, but the ceremony is worth seeing even without going into the room.
9. Ramboda Falls and tea plantations
I recommend this stage only if you have never seen tea plantations before. The waterfalls are nothing special, but the hills with the plantations are really beautiful. Here there are also several factories that work the tea and you can see all the production (as well as taste the various types of tea).
10. Adam’s Peak
Climbing Adam's Peak is a must-do experience !! This mountain is sacred to virtually all religions in the world, certainly for Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus, and it's really crazy to share the ascent with thousands of pilgrims, as well as see the sunrise from there of course. First advice, book a hotel in the town of Nullathanniya because on Adam's Peak you climb at night to get to the top and see the sunrise (so you can rest first). There pilgrimage season is from December to May and in these months the whole climb is illuminated so you won't have any problems and along the way there are a thousand stalls where you can buy food and drinks. Check the sunrise time to not get up too early (you will freeze to death waiting up there, in any case bring a quilt, thermal shirt, gloves and hat); I started climbing around 1: 30-2 at night. The climb is made up of about 5000 steps that will break your legs both uphill, but especially downhill! To go up, depending on the training, it will take from 2 to 3 hours and to go down no less than 2: 30-3. If you don't stretch well when you get back down, you will have a lot of trouble walking in the following days! If you go there outside the pilgrimage period, in general the weather may not be the best, the climb is not illuminated (bring the front light!) And there are no open stalls so you will have to bring food and water.
Ella is the "backpackers city" of Sri Lanka, it is surrounded by nature but has many hostels and many bars (there is even a mini-disco .. take advantage of it !!) and there is a really nice atmosphere. If you have a few more days it is worth staying 2-3 days between trekking (like the one on Little Adam's Peak), relaxation and cooking classes.
NOTA sul treno da Nuwara Eliya: the Railway route from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is the most famous in Sri Lanka and is served by both normal trains (red) and 1st class tourist trains (the blue one that is always seen in the photos). Buying a ticket for the blue train is not easy, the one for the red train instead you can buy it directly at the station before leaving. But try to get there early to get your seats, otherwise you will be forced to stand for 3 hours in the middle of the crowd (as I did ... a folkloric thing but ... no!).
13.Beaches: Hikkaduwa or Mirissa?
As for the beaches there is no big difference, perhaps there Mirissa beach it is wider in some places but does not change much. The villages are also similar, there is only one street with various restaurants, shops and bars. You decide above all on the basis of the accommodation you find. Mirissa may be the best option if you want to stay close to Galle, which is a larger town with a nice fort.